On Friday 14 September 2018 at 16.37pm, I submitted an EHC Needs Assessment request to Bristol City Council for my son. This was just seven days into my child’s first term at mainstream secondary school. I knew at that point, without additional support, my child simply wasn’t going to cope. It was a prophetic moment and as usual, I was proven right.
Sitting here, three months’ later and surrounded by 2ft piles of paperwork, Send law and a child now permanently out of mainstream education, it was simply the very first footstep in a journey which for Bristol residents is an absolute nightmare. Were it not for the dedicated peer support so kindly given by other parents and carers all bogged down in their own quagmire of Send difficulties, we would never get as far as we do.
One thing I learnt on this journey is that there are strict timescales. The second thing I learnt, is that these are merely serving suggestions to Bristol City Council. I felt my sympathy towards a dedicated SEN team battling with the best they could do evaporate this morning after fighting with a belligerent online school transport form. It was so bad tempered, it wouldn’t even show me a submit button. Apparently, nobody is entitled to school transport.
On Wednesday 10/10/2018, I received a letter well within time frames informing me that the council had agreed to a needs assessment for my son. This was a vast improvement on the request I submitted for my daughter one month earlier which was ‘lost’ for many weeks. Bristol City Council now had six weeks to carry out the Needs Assessment. That means information gathering to return the request to a second panel who will consider whether or not to agree to an EHCP.
My son’s Needs Assessment is now over seven weeks long. We have not even had contact about seeing an ed psych as part of the assessment. On the sixth week I sent a complaint to the SEN team at the council. I knew the team was struggling but the time frames they are now working in are not only unlawful, they are quite shocking.
No Access to Bristol Ed Psychs
This week I was told due to an ‘unprecedented number of requests’ they simply weren’t able to process my child’s Needs Assessment within time frames. There were still 14 children before us in the queue to see an ed psych and as they work through in strict chronological order, my child wouldn’t have ed psych involvement until after Christmas and most likely February at the earliest. That means some 16 weeks will have passed since Bristol City Council agreed to do a Needs Assessment. At 20 weeks, they really need to be issuing the finalised plan.
Once ed psych become involved and do their meeting, observations and report, it’s still not a fast process. To give some idea of how long that process will take, my daughter’s ed psych assessment was on Wednesday 07 November 2018 and her report is expected by the council on the 21 December 2018. Her Needs Assessment Request went to Bristol City Council on 06/08/2018. A month later, the council confirmed to me that they had lost it. Her Needs Assessment Request was approved on 11/09/2018, meaning we are now over 11 weeks into the Needs Assessment stage for her and nowhere near returning to the second panel.
If there are six weeks between ed psych seeing my daughter and issuing a report, it’s a reasonable assumption that there will be six weeks between ed psych seeing my son and issuing his report. That will potentially take his Needs Assessment into the final weeks of March 2019. That’s around seven months for a process that should take six weeks.
During this process, every single thing I have been told about the process from the council’s SEN team I have fact checked and a great many were false. The phones are not answered by case workers and significant amount of misinformation is being peddled to people with queries about the process.
No Places in Bristol Special Schools
Should we manage to secure an EHCP, there are no places in Bristol special schools available.
Bristol City Council Equality Impact Assessment Form for the High Needs Budget 2018/19, and signed off at the end of September this year says: ‘We are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient education places and the right types of education settings in our area.’
Goals include to ‘Make sure all children and young people attend the right education setting
that can meet their needs, where they receive a full time/ appropriate education offer that ensures they are safeguarded and their welfare is promoted.’
But Bristol Schools Forum noted this month that there has been a ‘significant rise in the number of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) need placement requests, which were projected, but we have also experienced an increase in the numbers of pre- and early primary children with ASC and or Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, which was not anticipated (but reflects national trends). The result of this is that across the board these provisions are now at capacity which for this point of time in the academic year (Term 2 2018) is of concern.’
The Send crisis in Bristol is not just about the lack of funds from central government, or the ‘unprecedented’ rise in EHC Needs Assessment requests this summer. According to the Bristol Schools Forum, this was all anticipated yet there are no spaces available for children. My only hope is that in seven months’ time, somebody moves out of area or the council opens a new special school for all the children without placements.
Send Services Up For Consultation
Everything Send in Bristol is up for consultation next year, with Bristol City Council currently holding a survey about the effectiveness of different Send provision in Bristol. This is quite a worry considering their track record and being taken to judicial review earlier this year.
The 04/12 Cabinet meeting is being asked to approve a flexible framework for independent and non-maintained special school placements.
Children and young people with an EHCP who cannot have their needs met in a mainstream or maintained special schools may need a place at an independent or non-maintained provision.
In Bristol, there is no mainstream or maintained specialist provision for dyslexia and its associated difficulties and co-morbid conditions. Individual schools are expected to buy in packages of support. In reality, this doesn’t happen because of poor school funding.
Last month, Bath Spa University even called for Sendcos’ time to be protected because children with ‘less severe’ additional needs were not being properly supported. Sendcos simply didn’t have enough time and often they were called away for unrelated duties.
There is a specialist independent school in Bristol for children with dyslexia as a primary diagnosis. With Bristol City Council establishing a ‘flexible framework of providers’ it is a worrying time for parents whose children might benefit from independent specialist provision who may now have to fight even harder for an appropriate independent school.
The Bristol City Council Equality Impact Relevance Check says that ‘The new flexible framework will mean improved quality assurance processes to ensure that we are only using excellent providers. It will also mean that there is better information for the councils, children, young people and their families when deciding where to make a placement.’
Whilst it’s not clear at this stage how the council will select the independent provision, it does say the framework will ‘Improve educational outcomes and reduce educational inequality, whilst ensuring there are enough school places to meet demand and a transparent admissions process.’ Perhaps all the Send children without school places are going private. In the meantime, a named school on an EHCP for many is a long way off.
There appears to be confusion over the 20 additional posts for ECHP assessment caseworkers promised by Bristol City Council this year. These are the people who would process the Needs Assessment request which would help get children into the schools they need to be going to. Local Send charities and carer support services promise this is happening. There are currently three permanent positions being advertised on the council’s jobs website.
If you find Send services you access in Bristol as being vital, you might want to take a step towards protecting them. Although Bristol City Council’s Investing in our High Needs Children and Young People survey 2018 is just a survey, it will inform a series of crucial public consultations taking place during next year.
If you have benefited from or access the following, it is critical to begin raising voices to make sure you can continue to do so and others in the future will have the benefit:
Top Up Funding
Early Intervention Bases
Sensory Support Service
Bristol Autism Team
Alternative Provision Team
HOPE Virtual School
Safeguarding in Education Team
Every one of these services is being examined for efficiency, where alternatives appropriate or not can be made and their cost effectiveness. All these services support children with special educational needs and disabilities, some of the most vulnerable children in Bristol.
Official public consultation for Send provision next year:
Top Up Funding and Bristol Universal Descriptors
There will be an 8-week public consultation from the end of January 2019. Two Stakeholder events planned for January 2019. Proposed new processes and Bristol SEN Support Plan will got to cabinet on 21 May 2019 and then to full council for a decision. Implementation will happen in September 2019.
Early Intervention Bases
There will be a 6 week public consultation from Feburary 2019 after one stakeholder event in January 2019. The proposed findings and recommendations will go to Cabinet on 21 May 2019 and agreements actioned for September 2019.
A Service review will start in January 2019 with a public consultation taking place in March and April 2019. The findings and proposed recommendations will go to Cabinet in June 2019.
Sensory Support Service
Public consultation to take place in March to May 2019. Recommendations will go through the decision pathway in July 2018 with a management change and workforce development across four Local Authority Areas for a new service in January 2010.
Other services Bristol Autism Team, Alternative Provision Team, HOPE Virtual School and Safeguarding in Education Team are included in the current survey although there are no details about individual public consultations.
The July 2018 Judicial Review was a very public victory for Send in Bristol. But, the hard work to protect services is always ongoing and nothing is safe yet.
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